The Great Butter Fire

In 1991, Madison, Wisconsin, made history when the Madison East Fire Department was faced with the worst fire in the history of the city. The four-alarm fire broke out around 3:30 in the afternoon at the Central Storage Warehouse complex, which stored luncheon meat, cheese, and tons of government surplus butter. Nearly 3,000 residents were evacuated when the fire spread from the complex's main building to two adjacent structures containing potentially dangerous chemicals. As many as 115 firefighters and volunteers fought the fire through the night and into the next day. Six stories of butter melted and started flowing into the streets and sewers. City engineers and employees used an end loader to put sand on the burning butter and dams were constructed to stop the flow of butter from reaching creeks and lakes. The fear was that the butter could at some point solidify in the sewer system and create even more problems. The damage to the buildings and contents was estimated to be between $50 million and $100 million. There were 15 to 20 workers inside the warehouse when the fire began, but only four injuries were reported. CSW Vice President Tom Fitzgerald said the company's insurance would cover the costs and the company planned to reestablish operations.